Rolling Along: Flippin' out

I saw a near-dustup the other day, and while I’ve encountered several such traffic-related, road-ragey altercations (no doubt a result of the weather/economy/whatever is ailing us as a nation these days), this one stuck with me and rattled around a bit in the void between my ears.

I was approaching a downtown Mass. Street intersection and noticed a couple — at least, I assumed they were a couple based on their proximity; perhaps they were brother/sister, or maybe he was interested in her, but she was coming off a tough break-up; or maybe … oh, never mind — scurrying, on the sidewalk running perpendicular to my path, toward the intersection. I assumed they were hurrying to make it to the intersection before the light turned.

Trouble was, traveling along the same path but on Mass. Street was a car, the driver of which also was hurrying to make the light. Its driver was turning right, across the pedestrians’ path.

I wasn’t close enough or alert enough to get the sequence perfectly, but the male pedestrian and the turning car reached the corner about the same time. The man stepped just into the crosswalk and stopped short as the car breezed past. I’m not sure if he didn’t see or didn’t care about the car or, perhaps, just wanted to make a show of what a near-miss it was, but he threw his arms in the air and … flipped the bird.

The light changed almost immediately. The pedestrians continued across the street — against the light, though there was no traffic other than me on my bike — as the car slowed to a stop in the middle of the street. The driver opened his door, and I knew what was coming.

The fella never left his seat, as far as I could tell, but he turned toward the birdman and bellowed what, in a more medical setting, could have been considered a plea for the digit-flipper to perform a cautionary proctological self-exam. However, his message was considerably more concise and vulgar — and he obviously was proud enough of it to repeat it a couple of times.

Mr. Middle Finger chuckled and glared. The driver huffed and puffed.

I’m not sure what came of it — probably just a bunch of antler rattling — because I’d lost interest, but it made me ponder bird-flipping etiquette.

I’ll admit, I’ve been known to fly the finger a time or two. It’s more a startle reflex than anything. (As an aside, how funny would that be if a baby’s startle reflex really were to give ol’ mom a double-barreled bird?)

I’m trying to keep the bird in his cage and just shrug off traffic injustices, whether I’m on two wheels or four.

But, morally, I feel if somebody comes close to harming my person, I reserve the right to give ’em half a peace sign. It only seems fair.

And if I cut somebody off or commit some perceived injustice, I expect to have a bird flipped my way. I might return it if I disagree or I might give a little wave of apology, but I’m not about to let it escalate into a middle-of-a-downtown-street brouhaha.

It’s just business. It’s not personal.

If someone were intentionally trying to run me down, that’s a different story, but I doubt a single, outstretched digit would be an appropriate response.

For all the less serious, unintentional injustices, I say flip and let flip.

Tagged: bike commuting, bike, bicycle, bicycle commuting


Marilyn Hull 5 years, 10 months ago

I learned from a Sound-Off in the LJW last week that pedestrians aren't supposed to enter a crosswalk after the countdown Don't Walk starts. I never knew this.

I have to admit I regularly step off the curb into a crosswalk when there are 5 seconds left. I'm a fast walker, and can easily make it. But now I know that if someone hit me, the law would be on their side.

Andrew Hartsock 5 years, 10 months ago

I would have been interested to see what happened legally if the ped. had been hit. On one hand, he would have entered the crosswalk on a blinking countdown. But I'm pretty sure the driver's light was at least yellow.

Leslie Swearingen 5 years, 10 months ago

I know, I thought the countdown was to tell the walker how much time they had to cross the street. So, you are supposed to stand there watching the countdown and then wait until the light changes? Andrew, my response as a walker to traffic mishaps and infractions is to wave and smile cheerfully. I find that is much more disconterting. Truth to tell traffic is beginning to scare me. How safe are you on a bicycle with drivers and others convinced that people are going to react to them?

Andrew Hartsock 5 years, 10 months ago

I usually just wave or ignore, but I have to admit, sometimes I'm startled into a fight-or-flip response. Traffic can be scary, but intentional threats are rare. I'm far more concerned about the dangers posed by folks talking/texting on their phones.

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